PATRIOT ACT

The PATRIOT ACT was signed into law on October 26th, 2001. Just 45 days after 9/11.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the USA PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3162) in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks to give more power to US intelligence agencies, and who has described himself as “author of the Patriot Act,” declared that it was time to put the NSA’s “metadata program out of business.” With its bulk collection of Americans’ phone data, Sensenbrenner asserted that the intelligence community “misused those powers,” had gone “far beyond” the original intent of the legislation, and had “overstepped its authority.”

An opinion piece by Leahy and Sensenbrenner, published in Politico, described the impetus for proposed changes, saying:

The intelligence community has failed to justify its expansive use of [the FISA and Patriot Act] laws. It is simply not accurate to say that the bulk collection of phone records has prevented dozens of terrorist plots. The most senior NSA officials have acknowledged as much in congressional testimony. We also know that the FISA court has admonished the government for making a series of substantial misrepresentations to the court regarding these programs. As a result, the intelligence community now faces a trust deficit with the American public that compromises its ability to do its job. It is not enough to just make minor tweaks around the edges. It is time for real, substantive reform.

According to supporters of the USA Freedom Act, the USA Freedom Act was meant to end the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata by the NSA, end the secret laws created by the FISA court, and introduce a “Special Advocate” to represent public and privacy matters. However, opponents to the bill cite that the USA Freedom Act does allow the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata by phone companies, which is then accessible by the NSA; it also does not address other laws which have purportedly challenged Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. Other proposed changes included limits to programs like PRISM, which retains Americans’ Internet data, and greater transparency by allowing companies such as Google and Facebook to disclose information about government requests for information.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the bill, stated that its purpose was:

To rein in the dragnet collection of data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies, increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), provide businesses the ability to release information regarding FISA requests, and create an independent constitutional advocate to argue cases before the FISC.

According to the bill’s sponsors, their legislation would have amended Section 215 of the Patriot Act to ensure that any phone records obtained by the government were essential in an investigation that involved terrorism or espionage, thereby ending bulk collection, while preserving “the intelligence community’s ability to gather information in a more focused way.”

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